Tag: Web Mapping

Mapping APIs and Mashups

Application APIs are an invaluable extension to many software products, providing a means to quickly and conveniently integrate applications and data to produce value added results for specific purposes.  The resulting derivations are often called mashups.

The creation of mashups belies the convenience they bring to a broad range of applications.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the online mapping arena where software APIs are allowing users to fashion extended applications.

Mapping APIs are abundant – and resulting mashups even more so.  A recent survey of ProgrammableWeb’s directory of APIs showed 130 mapping related APIs out of a total 2,198 APIs.

Interestingly of the 5,271 mashups in ProgrammableWeb’s database, 2,354 fall in the mapping category.  Of the 50 most recently added mashups, 24 utilize a mapping related API exclusively or in combination with other APIs

Looking at the most popular APIs in terms of mashups utilizing them, 8 of the top 50 APIs fall in the mapping category.  Overall, the GoogleMap API is far and away the most popular with 2,100 mashups in the directory utilizing it compared to the Flickr API, next most popular with 552 associated mashups.

I came across a very nice Google mashup today.  There are so many of them out there but this one caught my attention for a number of reasons – both from a personal and technical interest standpoint.

Lindsay Wright has created a website called Tidespy that provides tide  and solar information for tidal stations in many countries.

From a technical standpoint some of the interesting things he has built into the site include:

  • the incorporation of dynamic data (both tide and solar information) into a mashup environment
  • information rich pop up windows with user control of which data to view
  • simple user tools to modify how the data is presented
  • tools that allow users to customize the how information is presented and search tools for finding specific locations
  • nifty little location markers which at the local level show whether the tide is rising or falling and change color in accordance with the tide level

Tidespy shows that it is possible to create an attractive, interesting and informative mapping application with readily available mapping tools.

When you combine appropriate organizational structure, defined roles and responsibilities and appropriate processes that are properly linked to a mission or business model, an organization can be comfortable that it has a proper governance structure to guide its operations.

Put another way, the key elements of a governance model are:

  • Build on corporate level mandate
  • Define authority
  • Establish and enforce rules of operation
  • Manage change
  • Measure results and optimize

So how is this relevant to an organization’s implementation of web-based mapping applications?

In the rapidly evolving world of technology the only thing that seems certain about the future is that it will be different from today and the degree of difference is proportional to the time scale.  I would suggest this picture applies to the current state of web-based mapping technology.

For an organization considering or already engaged in the development of a web mapping application, the challenge of making choices today that remain valid tomorrow can be daunting – and particularly so if the organization does not see its strengths in the world of technology.

Is it just me or do the terms governance and technical innovation seems at opposite ends of the cool spectrum?

All too often, inadequate attention is paid to constructing an application-appropriate governance structure to ensure the long term sustainability and evolution of web-based mapping applications.  My observation is that even though web mapping is a relatively young area of endeavour, many applications have a tendency to flag or grow stale over time.

The areas an appropriate governance model will touch on include:

  • Application alignment with corporate goals
    • Definition and refinement of application objectives
    • Budgeting/resource procurement
  • Definition of performance criteria
  • Application lifecycle management
    • Management of the initial service/application functionality
    • Data management
    • Application enhancements
    • Internal staff resource management
    • User training
  • Monitoring of application services performance and effectiveness
    • Application use
    • Service uptime/downtime or underperformance
    • Benefits to user organizations
    • Benefits to information users

The objective should be to strike a balance between a sufficient level of governance to provide direction without it becoming overbearing and bureaucratic.

As Kim Guenther has stated “… governance structures are most noticeable in their absence and seem invisible when working effectively.”